St. Alphonsus: Intercessor and model for all

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on the memorial of St. Alphonsus Liguori at the Serra Club/Knights of Columbus picnic for seminarians and families, at St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax.

How good it is that we are gathered together this day, now taking part in the Eucharistic Sacrifice wherein the Lord Jesus embraces us with His love, and later, sharing food, friendship and that unique bond that links us together in a particular way: parents, family members and friends of our seminarians joined by the members of the Serra Club, the Knights of Columbus from this parish, Columbian Squires and Squire Roses, and other benefactors. With us as well are my brother priests and deacons, and among them Father Barkett, pastor of this parish; Father Jaffe, Director of the Diocesan Vocations Office; Father Rippy, Chaplain to the Serrans; Father Hayes, parochial vicar here, and Deacons Davis and Gallagher.

How good it is also that the Saint being honored in today's liturgy is Saint Alphonsus Liguori, who lived several centuries ago in central Italy, from 1696 to 1787. Why? Saints are held up before us for our veneration as we seek their powerful intercession, and for our imitation as we seek to model our lives on their lives of faith.

Saint Alphonsus can be a model for every one of us because certain aspects of his journey in faith parallel ours. So, we can imitate what he did more readily and ask his prayers for us more confidently.

We are, each one of us, disciples of Jesus Christ. A disciple listens to the master and follows him. Our Master and Lord, Our Redeemer and Friend, is Jesus Christ, God's Own Son Who became one like us in all things except sin. Saint Alphonsus fell in love with Jesus early on in his life and became a faithful, persevering disciple until his death. With God's grace, Saint Alphonsus fostered and deepened a very personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. He understood that rules, precepts and commandments make no lasting sense without there being first a truly deep relationship with Jesus the Lord. Only when each one of us truly loves Jesus and understands how much Jesus loves us, only then will we see the role of rules, precepts or commandments. When we prize deeply a truly personal relationship with another, then we seek to strengthen it and to avoid what weakens it.

So, Saint Alphonsus spent his entire life, especially as a priest, teacher, confessor and bishop, enthusiastically inviting people to go to the Lord Jesus and enter into a deeply personal relationship with Him within the Community of His Disciples, the Church. He urged them to live a moral life because living in a right relationship with God, others and oneself actually embraces the essence of a deeply personal relationship with Jesus within the Church. Moreover, in his own life, his works and actions witnessed to the kind of life he was urging people to live.

In this way, Saint Alphonsus was both salt and light. In today's Gospel account, Jesus instructs us to be salt, which preserves the flavor of His teaching, and to be light, which proclaims His truth and guides our earthly pilgrimage.

As disciples, we find in Saint Alphonsus an authentic model for living out our individual discipleship, witnessing to Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and thereby being salt and light for others. We find in him the incentive to open our hearts to the love with which Jesus Christ desires to embrace us. Like Saint Alphonsus, we too can fall in love with Jesus!

Among us are men who are discerning whether or not the Lord Jesus is calling them to follow Him as a priest, as the one who acts in the Person of Christ, teaching, sanctifying and shepherding God's people. These men: your sons, your brothers, your friends - they are discerning whether or not the Lord wants them to be salt and light in the unique way in which a priest is both salt and light for his people. Saint Alphonsus was a brilliant and successful lawyer, yet he sensed that there was more. He, too, sought out God's will; he, too, discerned the Lord's call. And he did so, despite fierce opposition from his father. Parents, family members and friends, are you assisting the discernment process by prayer, encouragement and other ways of support? Dear seminarians, are you imitating Saint Alphonsus by seeking out the guidance of the Holy Spirit daily? For Saint Alphonsus, the Will of God was paramount! Are you like him in seeking only what is God's Will as you continue to discern?

Each one of us faces and will continue to face some form of the cross. Did not Jesus say, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (cf. Lk 9:23)? Saint Alphonsus had a number of crosses to bear: his father's resistance to his ordination; anticlerical opposition to the religious order he founded, the Redemptorists; Jansenist condemnation of his theological books; resentment to his renewal efforts within the diocese; severe rheumatism, causing his head to bend into his chest; and expulsion from the very community he had founded. Saint Alphonsus bore these crosses with patient resignation to God's Will and surrendering trust into the arms of his beloved Jesus. Listen to how he views these crosses: "Contradictions, sickness, scruples, spiritual aridity and all the inner and outer torments are the chisel with which God carves his statues for paradise" (cf. Bert Ghezzi, Voices of the Saints, p. 21). So, Saint Alphonsus can be our model in how to accept, to bear, and to interpret the crosses that come to us and also our intercessor in bearing them with patience and grace!

Yes, the saints are powerful intercessors for us and appealing models to imitate as well. Among them stands today's saint, whose assistance we seek, whether we be seminarians discerning God's Will, family members and friends supporting them, disciples striving to be salt and light as we evangelize all those we meet!

Saint Alphonsus was captivated by the overwhelming love the Lord Jesus has for each one of us, the love made visible by Jesus' Dying and Rising. All he could do was to proclaim that good news: that God loves us, and to invite everyone to respond to God in love, even as he tried to do. It is our turn now to be and to do what Saint Alphonsus was and did: a faithful disciple proclaiming the ever-faithful love of God as we ourselves love Him in return! We echo his prayer: "Grant, O Lord, that I may love You always, and then do with me what You will."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015